Achieving Unity Through Diversity
Fulbright conference addresses issues of discord, harmony in an increasingly multicultural United States
By Cassie Chew
Fulbright Visiting Scholar Dr. Otelemate Harry has spent time on several college campuses in the United States, but this year he is getting to know the East Coast. The linguistics scholar is in the middle of an 11-month stint as a lecturer at Suffolk County Community College as a Fulbright “Scholar-in-Residence.”
“This is my first time coming to the Northeast and experiencing the other side of America,” Harry, one of about 100 scholars from more than 60 countries, said at last month’s national conference of Fulbright Visiting Scholars in Washington, D.C.
This year the scholars spent three days grappling with issues of harmony and discord within an increasingly multicultural United States. The discourse provided Harry with food for thought to take back to his residency at the two-year college in New York and to the department of language, linguistics and philosophy at the University of the West Indies, Mona in Kingston, Jamaica, where he lectures on and researches phonetics in African languages.
The conference started with a call to the scholars to use their teaching and mentoring roles to guide students into working toward developing public policy that reflects the needs of a multicultural society.
“Take any of our societies, we are the people who are directly engaged in the most massive socialization of the next generations of any of our countries,” said James C. Early, director of cultural heritage policy at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington.
“Citizens are beginning to connect themselves across nations to demand that their political officials be more responsible,” Early said. “We have got to let the multiplicity of human creativity within universities find diverse ways to achieve some of those universal goals like justice, freedom and equality.”
As a participant in the Scholar-in-Residence program, which is designed to send Fulbright Visiting Scholars to institutions that rarely have the opportunity to host Visiting Scholars and assist in internationalizing their campuses, Harry has been introduced to a new population of students that may need this kind of motivation.
“I am used to going to Ivy League schools,” said Harry, who has participated in residencies at the University of California-Berkeley, Stanford University and Cornell University.
“I have come to understand and work with students that are not so privileged, and I have become more patient with students,” said Harry, who lectures on the three different campuses of the community college and encourages students to continue their education beyond the associate’s degree.
“Only a few are motivated to go beyond the (two years),” Harry said. “At the end of last semester one student asked my opinion of colleges because she wanted to go to a four-year university outside of the U.S. so that she could get that exposure to diversity.”
During their week in Washington, the Fulbright scholars also discussed how to create diverse intellectual learning communities. Within that discussion, the scholars considered the current role of historically Black colleges and universities, women’s colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions.
“Students have a need to feel comfortable in a space,” said Dr. Alma Clayton-Pedersen, vice president for education and institutional renewal at the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the session’s moderator. Clayton attended an all-girls high school.
“It was a very powerful experience and I wouldn’t be who I am today without it,” Clayton-Pedersen said.
One panelist during the session suggested that these schools may need to make sure that their students experience diversity.
“HBCU’s tend to have very good support system …They may need to help students get off campus and check out what racism is like,” said Dr. William Sedlacek, a professor of counseling and personnel services at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Harry was most impressed with guest speaker Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who provided suggestions for preparing minority students for careers by creating a climate of high academic achievement for all students.
“We don’t spend a lot of time focused on the very best,” Hrabowski said. “We need to find the success stories and give them support.”
One of the group’s onsite visits to Gallaudet University, a school for hearing-impaired students, helped give Harry new insights for solving a problem in Jamaica.
“We are trying to develop a Jamaican sign language system for English and Jamaican Creole. There is a system but it needs improvement,” he said.
The Visiting Scholars also participated in small-group discussions on how diversity issues are addressed in their homeland and their observations about diversity during their stay in the United States.
Designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, the Fulbright Scholar program was established in 1946 under legislation introduced by former Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas.
Since the establishment of the program, 43,000 Fulbright Visiting Scholars have conducted research or taught in U.S. universities, and more than 41,000 Fulbright U.S. Scholars have engaged in similar activities abroad.
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